Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney on Monday brought to three the number of Republican senators to say they would vote in favor of supporting Ketanji Brown Jackson as Joe Biden’s nominee to the US supreme court.
Murkowski of Alaska put out a statement on Monday evening saying: “After multiple in-depth conversations with Judge Jackson and deliberative review of her record and recent hearings, I will support her historic nomination to be an Associate Justice on the US supreme court.”
Then Romney, the Utah senator and former presidential candidate, issued a statement in which he praised Jackson as a well-qualified jurist and “a person of honor”. He congratulated her on “her expected confirmation”.
Last week the Republican Susan Collins of Maine was the first from her party to say she was a “yes” on Jackson, guaranteeing a bipartisan aspect to her confirmation days after an acrimonious Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.
Jackson is unlikely to need any Republican votes but the support of the moderates Murkowski, Romney and Collins, at least, will be a huge fillip to Joe Biden’s efforts to appeal across the aisle.
In a statement, Murkowski said her support stemmed from a “rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for supreme court nominees, which, on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year. While I have not and will not agree with all of Judge Jackson’s decisions and opinions, her approach to cases is carefully considered and is generally well reasoned.”
Earlier on Monday, a deadlocked Senate judiciary committee voted on partisan lines to advance the nomination of Jackson, putting Biden’s nominee on track to become the first Black woman confirmed to the supreme court.
Following days that included harsh questioning from Republicans and debate over Jackson’s judicial record and qualifications, the committee vote was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 11-11.
The tie forced Democrats to deploy a rare procedural move requiring a separate vote to “discharge” Jackson’s nomination from the committee to the Senate floor.
A vote on that discharge petition took place in the Senate on Monday evening, where it was approved by 53 to 47, clearing the way for the Senate to debate and ultimately give final approval of her nomination.
The panel’s split decision will delay but not derail Jackson’s nomination to replace the retiring justice Stephen Breyer, the most senior member of the court’s minority liberal wing.
But the committee vote along party lines underscored the intense partisan acrimony that has come to define modern supreme court nomination proceedings.
Opening the meeting on Monday morning, Dick Durbin of Illinois, the committee’s Democratic chair, praised Jackson’s “impeccable qualifications” and said her experience as a public defender would bring a “missing perspective to the court”.
“Hers is a uniquely American family story, how much hope and promise can be achieved in just one generation,” Durbin said. “I’m proud we can bear witness to it.”
The committee spent the morning debating Jackson’s nomination, sparring over many of the same issues that the senators discussed with her privately during their one-on-one meetings with the judge and publicly during days of hearings that included personal testimony and combative rounds of questioning about her judicial record.
But before the vote could occur, Democrats briefly recessed the meeting to await the arrival of the California Democrat Alex Padilla, whose overnight flight to Washington had been diverted due to a medical emergency onboard and was delayed.
Like the full Senate, the committee’s 22 members are evenly divided between the parties, meaning Democrats needed Padilla’s vote to force a tie and advance Jackson’s nomination.
Democrats and the White House hope to confirm Jackson to the lifetime position on the court before Congress recesses for the Easter holiday on Friday. The 51-year-old was confirmed by the Senate to the US court of appeals for the DC circuit last year with the support of three Republicans: Collins, Murkowski and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Graham has said he will not support Jackson’s nomination to the supreme court, calling her an “activist to the core”, outside the judicial mainstream.
If confirmed, Jackson would make history as the first Black woman and only the sixth woman to sit on the court in its more than 200-year history. Her confirmation would, however, do little to change the ideological balance of the court, in which conservatives outnumber liberals 6-3.
During the morning debate, Durbin lamented Republican hostility toward Jackson, accusing senators of leveraging “vile” and “discredited” attacks on her record and character.
“She stayed calm and collected. She showed dignity, grace and poise,” Durbin said. “It is unfortunate that our hearing came to that, but if there is one positive to take away from these attacks, it is that the nation got to see the temperament of a good, strong person truly ready to serve on the highest court in the land.”
Republicans had sought to portray Jackson as “soft on crime”, a line of attack dismissed outright by the American Bar Association, which testified that she was strongly qualified for the position.
Republicans on the committee appear uniformly opposed to Jackson’s nomination, starting with the ranking member, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who announced he would not vote to confirm Jackson because “she and I have fundamental, different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government”.
Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, compared proceedings on Jackson’s nomination to Festivus, the holiday celebrated on the TV series Seinfeld.
“There’s been a lot of airing of grievances,” Booker said, adding: “I’ve heard things that are just ridiculous.”
During more than 30 hours of hearings last month, Jackson pledged to be an independent justice who would decide cases from a “neutral position”. She defended her record while reflecting on her personal story as the daughter of public school teachers in the segregated south.
The NAACP condemned panel Republicans.
“It’s a stain on the committee that this vote was not unanimous,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson said, urging Jackson’s confirmation. “History will be watching.”